For Wilson Reis, the fourth time is the charm.
The former EliteXC bantamweight champion and highly accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt signed with Bellator Fighting Championships at the dawn of the promotion before they even had a 135 pound division so he decided to move up a weight class and compete at featherweight.
He participated in three tournaments at 145 and was eliminated in the semifinals of all three. He lost to eventual champion Joe Soto via decision and would lose to current number one contender Patricio Freire in back to back tournaments.
After the most recent loss, he finally made the decision to drop back down to his more competitive weight of 135.
At just 26 years old, Reis has the skills to make some serious waves in the division and he's been training with the right people to make that happen, most notably UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz during brief stints in California at Alliance MMA.
Reis will take on top-ranked prospect Eduardo Dantas in the quarterfinals of the Bellator season five bantamweight tournament this Saturday night (September 24, 2011) at Bellator 51 and he spoke with MMAmania.com about stepping in on late notice, the disadvantages of fighting at featherweight and what it's like training alongside elite fighters.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This first question is pretty easy. You were not originally in the Bellator season five bantamweight tournament and you got the late invite to step in for Joe Soto. How excited were you to get that call and be back in a tournament with Bellator?
Wilson Reis: I was very excited. I was definitely waiting for that call and I was the alternate. I had high hopes that I was gonna get in. I was kinda thinking I'd get in because I knew what kind of condition Joe Soto was in and I was definitely happy to get his spot. I was gonna be in the tournament last year, I wanted to make the cut to 135 but they didn't have the same feeling towards me dropping down as they do now. I should have fought at 135 before but I gave it a try at 145. I did good, had nine fights at 145 and went 6-3 but now I'm very excited to fight 135 now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In every tournament for 145 you made it to the semifinals but you couldn't get over that hump. Do you think the fact that you were a weight class above what you're used to was a big factor in that inability to advance?
Wilson Reis: Yeah and I think it was just, when I lost the first time against Joe Soto, it was a very close fight and they didn't give me a decision. I thought it could have at least been a split. I think he won because he controlled the cage better and he had a good strategy. When I fought the semifinal last year, I had a terrible training camp after my win over Shad Lierley, I was really banged up. I had four major injuries, my ankle was twisted, my foot was bad, I had a broken rib and my hand had a dislocated thumb all during my training camp. During the fight against Pitbull I felt a little better but during that camp I wasn't 100%.
We fought again earlier this year in the semifinal and that was definitely the size. I was in the best shape of my career, I had an awesome training camp, we had a really good strategy. I think it was just that Pitbull is a very strong, powerful fighter. I just spent so much energy just holding him for the first two and a half rounds and towards the end I was getting tired and I gassed and I had been in awesome shape. I think the reason is definitely that he was the stronger man that night. It was a shame that I lost because I was feeling good and some of the judges gave me the first two rounds. It was just a war. He was the stronger man that night.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You wanted to get a fight this summer but the plans fell through. When you were gonna fight this summer, was it going to be at 135 or at 145 pounds?
Wilson Reis: That fight I was going to be at 135 already. Right after I loss, I told the people, "I'm going back to 135 no matter what." That fight was actually supposed to be a catchweight of 140 pounds and we agreed to 137 but the fight never happened.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've had experience at 135 or at least at 140. You were the EliteXC bantamweight champion and you beat some very tough people there including current Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky via second round submission. Does it give you a lot of confidence knowing that you beat the current champ?
Wilson Reis: Oh definitely. That fight with Zach, it was my third MMA fight and he already had a belt back then. It was a huge confidence boost for me and I was very happy when I beat him. I was still new to the MMA game and I was still trying to be more of a full mixed martial artist, showing striking and wrestling and everything. Beating such a high level fighter like him, both of us got so much better since and we're growing so much in the sport. I got better, Zach got better and we're actually buddies, good friends since we both live in Philadelphia and we train together sometimes. He's an awesome guy and I'm very happy for his success.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were already scheduled to compete on this Bellator 51 show as a competitor on the undercard so by taking the fight on short notice, it wasn't a big deal for you at all.
Wilson Reis: Yeah, I had a great training camp and I had everything planned out to fight on this card anyways and when I got my notice that I was fighting in the tournament, we're ready man. Even then, I was already feeling that I was going to be in the tournament so I stepped up my training and training camp was awesome. We pretty much finished training camp now. I got to go to California and train with Dominick Cruz a bit at his camp as well so it was awesome. I feel 100 percent ready to go and I've got a tough opponent in Eduardo Dantas but the experience I have will be great. The one thing I don't have is the reach advantage.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You are the king of the segue here because I was just about to ask you about going out to California and training with Dominick Cruz at Alliance MMA. Now that you're dropping to bantamweight, it's gotta feel good that you've put in time alongside the number one bantamweight fighter in the world.
Wilson Reis: Oh yeah man. When I go there, they're very organized and they do such good work with Dominick and his whole camp. Dominick is such a nice guy to be around. He acts like a champion both inside and outside the cage. He gave a lot of good advice and you can't get better than that for a training partner, the number one guy in the world at my weight class of 135. Training over there was awesome and especially because we both were in training camp preparing for fights at a similar time. It was like Disneyland for 135 and 145 pounders. We called it "midget camp" (laughs), a bunch of midgets walking around, like 20-30 guys there and everybody helping each other be in the best shape they can get.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You briefly mentioned your upcoming opponent, Eduardo Dantas. He's one of the highest rated prospects at 135 in the entire world. How excited are you to be stepping in there against such a tough guy in the first round of this tournament?
Wilson Reis: Very excited man. Very excited. To be my first fight at 135, it's a very nice fight. I think with this tournament though, there's no easy opponents and Bellator always puts tough guys in front of you in the tournaments. There's no easy fights. Every fight is gonna be a war and especially as we keep moving on. Eduardo Dantas is a Brazilian guy. He's a cool guy. It's gonna be an exciting fight for our country and I excited to step up against him.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): He trains out of a really tough gym in Brazil, Nova Uniao, one of the best in the world. So you're training in Philly as well as with Dominick Cruz in California and he's training with Marlon Sandro and Jose Aldo. You are both training with the absolute elite.
Wilson Reis: Oh yeah man. We're in the game and training camp and preparation is where you win and lose the fight really. I have the pleasure of having great corners and great coaches around me and so does he. The Nova Uniao camp is one of the best camps for lightweights and lower in Brazil in all of MMA. We're both gonna be ready for this.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is your fourth Bellator tournament. You're one of the most experienced Bellator fighters on the roster. Is there anything you can take from all your previous experience into this tournament that you feel can put you over the edge?
Wilson Reis: Absolutely, a lot of experience, especially being in the tournament. I came up short three times. I just love the challenge and I love the tournament. I get in these tournaments because I want to win and the only way to get a title shot in Bellator is to win the tournament so I'm here in a different weight class because I couldn't do it at 145 so I'm trying at 135 to win the tournament and win the Bellator bantamweight belt. I'm just excited man. I'm excited to be in here. I've got lots of experience knowing what it's like to fight every 3-4 weeks so I've got that tournament experience on my side.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How would you like the fight to play out on Saturday night when you step in there against Eduardo Dantas?
Wilson Reis: Man, I'm definitely expecting it to be a challenging fight. I'll be very happy if I can get a submission or TKO victory. I'll be working very hard for both of them.
Wilson would like to thank his coach Eric Del Fierro at Alliance MMA and his training camps in Philadelphia BJJ United and Daddis Fight Camps. He's also like to thank his sponsors Clinch Gear and everyone that supports him.
So what do you think, Maniacs? Will fourth time be the charm for Wilson Reis in a Bellator tournament? Can he finally make it past the semifinals now that he's at his more competitive 135 pounds?
Be sure to check out these other interviews from our Bellator bantamweight introductory series: